On Thursday August 24 the Omineca Express interviewed Shawn Sayles, a local skater turned professional skateboarder for a time who put down his first skating roots in the concrete curbs of Vanderhoof. Shawn is a 1995 NVSS grad. He attended Prairiedale School and Sinkutview Elementary. He was a 4-H kid and he wrestled in high school. Shawn grew up in Vanderhoof. He has studied, worked, travelled and lived overseas since and he currently resides in Barcelona.
“I’ve been skateboarding 27 years, but I only started kinda late. My son was able to start skating already when he three years old. He is seven and he can already do a bunch of things that I couldn’t do when I was twelve.”
Shawn’s face lights up talking about skateboarding as a very popular and engaging activity.
Shawn comes back to Vanderhoof every year and he brings his skateboard with him every time. “I’m surprised there’s not a park in the way that there are young skaters here now, and there were guys who skated before me, and yet nothing’s progressed.”
Temporary wooden skate park
For a short time Vanderhoof had a wooden skate park. One of the churches donated a wooden ramp and some parents got it set up. It was behind the high school, by the curling rink and tennis courts.
“But I only skated it for a little while in grade 10 because within months it was burnt down. Even while it was there haters destroyed all our obstacles and they would throw them in the garbage. They rode up to it in pick up trucks. It was kinda like a joke. Little guys here are so disenfranchised. They literally drove up on the ramp in front of us kids while we were skating. Just to prove the point that skating kids are generally marginalised and stigmatised. They tried to delegitimise what we were doing.”
They didn’t have money or the tools to replace it.
“I started skateboarding in grade seven and skateboarded here for about 4 years before I left for university. I skateboarded at my dad’s shop. I skateboarded at the weigh scales. I would come to town at night and I would sometimes skate around the gas stations. But it was really tough, you know. People don’t even like you in the parking lot. They come and kick you out of the school parking lots and even there it was questioned what we were doing. And we were not drinking or smoking or taking drugs we just wanted our music and our baggy pants and our skateboard. And all of my friends are good students. We all graduated. A lot of them still work here and are members of the community. But they are so far removed from that. I think most of them have moved away. And why?”
“Vanderhoof hemorrhages a lot of its talent, a lot of its human capital, and it’s sad. I love Vanderhoof. Vanderhoof gave me a lot. But I was in a big hurry to get out because I felt really trapped here. I felt really stifled.
“Young kids from 10 – 12 years are in their ‘Wonder Years’ and they need to be inspired. The teenagers need to be focused and occupied on productive activities. And older youth in their twenties who stay around, they also need to be part of something. Skating is still relevant for a lot of adults and it’s something they can do with their kids.
Skaters are just misunderstood
“Really the whole point is that skateboarding is inclusive and encapsulates a lot of things; photography, graphic design, the whole vibe, making your own music, the fashion and the attitude. The skater scene is really an independent free-spirited DIY and creative thing. It’s a great mix of skill. It’s not violent or aggressive,” says Shawn.
“Most of them have a really good attitude, especially the older guys. If somebody with a bad attitude pops up they usually get moderated pretty quick, but not in a mean way, says Shawn.
“It’s not about putting the middle finger up to everybody. That’s a fake idea. It’s really not about that at all.”
“Young people have a lot of energy and they need to put out that energy.”
It’s about inclusiveness
“A skate park is a meeting place for all these people to come together. And sometimes people get irritated because some kids on scooters or bmx guys come but there’s no problem if your design allows for that, for the different levels and functions.
The exhilaration is liberating
“Suddenly you see some people flying around and it’s an incredible liberty. As soon as you try it, once you get some control of the board you feel so liberated. It’s no natural; like skiing or surfing or riding a quad or windsurfing, or hang gliding or parachuting, or riding a horse or doing rodeo.. there’s no difference. That feeling of the wind in your face.”
To a kid his skate board is his freedom. His wheels. “It’s a vehicle. When I didn’t have money to play hockey, I skated. I had my own free will. I depended on nobody. I just needed my board.”
“I went to university in the lower mainland and I started entering skating contests, and that’s where I started my professional career. I was amateur for a while and I just skated all the time. I studied, worked and skated. I won a bunch of contests and sponsorship, money, prizes, they send you on trips, you get photo’s in magazines and stuff.
“But it’s changed a lot, now it’s all digital and a lot of people are self promoting through instagram. I work with a design studio. Branding includes boards, clothes, artists and outreach programs. For example Hero Kids and Skate Your Problems, you can find it on YouTube.”
Passion for skating
“You think the guys are crazy. But when you get warmed up and your endorphins are flowing it’s like you’re really flying. Go to the beach and you watch surfers. That’s an example of what it is like.
“When the kids see older guys who have mastered it, they are in awe. And they want to know everything.
“Skating is very engaging. You learn about every kind of concrete and every structure and what you can do, different wheels and style and the history – it goes back to the early 1920’s.”
The skate park doesn’t have to sit dormant in the winter months. Shawn says passionate skaters will go to the park “with a torch and a push broom, clean it and skate anyway.”
“Skate park is absolutely a community asset. There’s a lot of energy and it attracts a lot of energy. It’s for the little kids, the younger kids, the older guys, for those that maybe only come to town for a couple of weeks, for visitors and tourists, workers that would stop off and use it.”
A skate park is for everybody to use and maintain. “You need picnic tables for grandparents to come sit and watch their grandkids skate. Summer camp with skate lessons. You need a water fountain, a bathroom facility, you need visibility, like any activity in case someone gets hurt, you need local police to come by and engage with the youth and see if people are breaking bottles there at night. Skaters are used to cleaning up and the local guys might have to do little repairs.”
Why do you think some communities, like ours, have trouble prioritising a skate park?
“It’s because of the stigma. Because the attitude is it’s a frivolous activity. But I have to say that’s mean and that’s negative. Because you could say that about everything. My dad does rodeo and I fully respect what he does but for a typical skateboarder rodeo is a frivolous activity.
People equate it with little punks tick-tacking around in the parking lot. They don’t understand the reason the skateboarders get in the way is there isn’t a place for them to do their thing.”
“You have to respect that people have different lifestyles and people enjoy different sporting activities.”
“When I was growing up my parents thought: “What are you doing with this sport?” But now they look at it and they realise it was really a good thing for me to focus and keep my energy on.”
“Perhaps there is resistance to investing in what appears to be a sport for very short time in a person’s life. But you could argue the same about other sports.”
At 40 years old skateboarding is still relevant for Shawn. It’s a career for him. It’s part of his work, his son is a skater. Skating wasn’t a dead end for him and it wasn’t a passing phase.
– Check out next week’s edition for a follow up article with news on the Vanderhoof Skatepark committee, an interview with Councillor Ken Young, plus insights on good skate park design.